Sun shines on Windies, but tough road ahead
Caribbeans need to build on their World T20 win to become a Test power
The West Indies weren’t definitely the popular winners in Sri Lanka on Sunday night. The 35,000 gathered at the R Premadasa Stadium and over 20 million people across the island nation were crestfallen after a familiar tale unfolded – fourth defeat in as many finals – in front of their eyes.
But if there was any other team that the Lankans would have wanted to see lift the trophy, it must be the West Indies.
Just like anywhere else in this small universe of cricket, in Lanka too the Caribbeans are the most loved ones. Though there weren’t many cheers reserved for Darren Sammy and his men during the course of the final, the support for the newest World T20 champions in other matches was so overwhelming that the rival sides might have felt like playing in a packed stadium in the West Indies. Like their national anthem goes, everybody ‘rallies around the West Indies.’
There is a something about the West Indian cricketers that instantly connects with those who have maintained even a passing interest in cricket. It could be their flair or it could be their cheerful nature that doesn’t see much fluctuation in victory and defeat, every cricket fan across the world enjoys them doing well just as he was sad at their steady decline from the top.
“The fans rally around the West Indies team,” said Sammy draped in the West Indian flag and swelling with pride on Sunday. “When we left the Caribbean, we said this tournament was for the people. One team representing all the people, and we all had one goal. We played some good cricket and saved our best for the last.”
Much as one would like to believe, to say that their stirring maiden triumph at the World T20 is what the Caribbeans needed to revive their rich cricketing legacy is stretching things a bit too far. The same words were bandied around when they defeated hosts England at The Oval to claim the 2004 ICC Champions Trophy under batting legend Brian Lara.
Things didn’t change much after that victory and if anything they regressed further. They had let go a golden opportunity then to bring cricket back to its glory days.
In that context, one would hope that Sammy’s weren’t just some emotional statements made during an overwhelming occasion. “This is definitely a step,” remarked the all-rounder while predicting a brighter future for cricket in the Caribbean. “We believe we can win matches. We’re not trying just to compete any more. We believe we can win against good opposition. We showed signs of that in the last year or so, but we were not winning. Hopefully, this can be the start of something good for the West Indies team and the people.”
While the victory has set off a wave of celebrations across the islands of the Caribbean, the task remains in channelling this success into revitalising other forms of cricket. With an army of some of the biggest hitters of the cricket ball, West Indies may be one of the better sides in the T20 format but they are some distance away from being the same force in 50-overs and Test cricket. The longer versions are a different ball game altogether.
“We have some of the most experienced Twenty20 players in our team,” pointed out Sammy.
“Once we play the way we can, we’ll always be a force to reckon with. We didn’t brag about it but we believed we could go out there and take it one game at a time. I said hurdle by hurdle, and today was the final one. The coach said we’re climbing to the top of a mountain, and that’s where the prize is. We’ve got to go and take it. Today, we did that,” he offered.
So, the challenge now is not only in using the opportunity to resuscitate the game itself but also ensuring that the younger generation, already fed on a steady diet of private T20 leagues and the riches of its players appearing in those events, isn’t lost to longer formats. Test cricket hasn’t been the same without the West Indies of the days of yore.